Federico Babina, stripping the superfluous

Speaking to Federico Babina, an Italian architect and illustrator based in Barcelona, means embarking on a trip in which words and images are juxtaposed to create infinite inspirations. Having rose to fame thanks to his series of illustrations depicting imaginary buildings associated with fields such as music, fiction or movies, Babina is constantly renewing himself. In his work as in his private life what matters to him is to follow a personal path that is stimulating and defies categorization.

What are you working on at the moment?
I enjoy working on various things at the same time, as it allows me to observe my images with a certain distance: it's a more dynamic approach. I am a multitasking designer. If I were to focus on a single project I would lose perspective. Changing imagery and images is a bit like not seeing someone every day. When I work on a series again after a break there's more to say. It's like a meditative rest that helps me maintain a fresh and lively relationship with my illustrations.

What are you planning to unveil soon?
I just launched my latest series, in which I explore the abstract relationship between different psychological pathologies and architecture, a delicate, but stimulating subject. I'm also making small ceramic sculptures that are caricatures of architecture and some of its protagonists. What is important is to keep your imagination and creativity flowing.

Do you have a fetish for any design object?
With time I've learnt to separate myself from objects, it's a difficult exercise but it helps you not become a slave to things. I've stopped being a fetishist of design, I can let go of objects without suffering excessively. I transformed a monogamy into an open relationship, objects and I love each other, but without possessiveness. I like objects that are beautiful and useless, but also those that are useful and ugly, and vice versa. I'm interested in design when it's made of ideas, not just form and functionality.

If you could live a day in the life of another creative person, who would you choose and why?
It depends on the day and the mood. Sometimes I wake up wishing to be a singer, other times a movie director. Some days I'd like to go on a solitary adventure immersed in nature, or to travel in time and dress like a historic character. Today though, I'd like to be Pablo Picasso to paint a little. Through illustration I can wear a costume and pretend I'm somebody else.  

What is the objective of your work?
I tend not to give myself concrete objectives. They're more abstract, for example to be able to express myself and communicate through my work. If I can manage that, then whatever comes will be like an unexpected gift falling from the sky. I prefer to let life surprise me. Pursuing goals is boring, it's like walking with the sole purpose of reaching the finish line. I prefer to enjoy the trip.

Have you noticed any changes in the field of illustration?
There's a trend to over-complicate. In the past I think illustrations were more dry and direct. New tools and technology have made it easy to add superfluous details, which often soil and obfuscate the message. Nevertheless contemporary culture is full of illustrators with enormous talent. The beauty of illustration is that it follows socio-cultural changes and transfers them to paper.

Was there a turning point in your career?
When my work started circulating and being published. Under many aspects visibility helps, but from others it can also inhibit. The window display I'm in has gotten bigger and I'm learning to coexist with the various consequences that entails. The exposure to people's reactions - positive or negative - has always conditioned my work. My effort in this moment is to keep it within my framework.

Of all your projects, which are you most proud of?
The series I am most attached to is the one that still doesn't exist. The one I'm composing in my mind and that is being drawn by my imagination. Each of the ones I've already made reminds me of a moment or a feeling I was experiencing. They're like pieces of a mosaic that represents me: each is fundamental in the composition of the whole.

Did you always dream of embarking on this career?
No. I always dreamed of being able to do what I liked, what stimulated and interested me. Right now illustration fits these criteria. I made an effort throughout the years to choose, and not to be chosen. It's not always possible, but I strive to follow this path.

Are there any exhibitions you particularly enjoyed this year?
An exhibition I recently went to in Barcelona: "1,000 m2 of desire Architecture And Sexuality". It's a subject that interests me and this exhibition gave me some food for thought.

Who or what inspires you?
I don't really believe in inspiration. Ideas are out there waiting for you: you just have to see them. Looking for inspiration and ideas is a daily and constant job. It's like walking towards a place without knowing how to get there. Sometimes it's easy to find your way, other times you get lost in the process. What matters is wanting to get there. My sources span from nature to the world of graphics to art and architecture, passing by comics, advertising and music. Anything can cause a spark and provide interesting stimulus.

Is there such a thing as a typical day of work for you?
Before starting to work I always take my dogs for a walk on the beach: Barcelona, where I live, is a city that makes it easier to live well. This stroll helps me think and relax. As for the rest, I'm methodical and constant, when I fall in love with an idea the concepts of time and effort disappear.

How would you define your style?
I like to feel free to express myself without being trapped in the prison of a style or a form. I strive to make my work reflect the rigor of architecture, the freedom of painting, the rhythm and breaks of music and the magical mystery of cinema. I try to mix apparently heterogeneous but yet connected languages. My guiding principle is the search for communicative simplicity. As Bruno Munari would say: "Complicating is easy, simplifying is difficult". Simplicity is the hardest thing to do. To simplify you have to strip away and to strip away you have to recognize what is superfluous.

What are the challenges of your profession?
As in all creative jobs, the primary difficulty is for its value to be recognized. Making sure ideas are seen as an intellectual asset, and even more so a professional one, is a daily battle.

What is your living space like?
To me a home is like a treasure chest full of memories. I have a photographic memory of all the houses I've lived in. I remember details of objects, smells, the shape of every environment. In my home every space and object has their moment. The house is constantly changing: lights, smells, seasons transform the spaces, which are never the same, though they might appear to be. That's why one has to adapt to these changes.

Do you have a motto in life?
Never lose the ability to dream.

Interview by Marzia Nicolini


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